Jacksonville Jaguars 26 – New York Giants 10

Game Overview: I didn’t expect this. I expected a tight, hard-fought game. Instead, the Giants were lucky to still be in the contest, only trailing 10-3 at halftime. The Giants were then fortunate that an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty caused a 14-point swing in the third quarter. Instead of losing 17-3, the Giants managed to crawl within 13-10 before the roof collapsed.

Head Coach Tom Coughlin said it best: “We didn’t stop the run. We didn’t stop the play-action pass. We didn’t run the ball. We turned the ball over. We didn’t keep the ball and we did not have a lot of rhythm offensively.”

That said, as poorly as the Giants played, they were only one or two plays away from being right in this game and possibly stealing it. The Giants came darn close to completing two long touchdown passes. Dropped passes stalled what looked to be another scoring drive and a careless fumble ended another.

Stating the obvious, the Giants are in trouble. The five-game winning streak seems like a long time ago. Just a few weeks ago, Giants’ fans were dreaming of home-field advantage. Now, there is fear of collapse. To be honest, the Giants simply may not be able to overcome the injuries. It doesn’t sound like Strahan, Umenyiora, or Petitgout will be back soon – and even if they do return, how effective will they be? Toomer, Arrington, and Tuck are already on Injured Reserve.

More distressing than all of the injuries is that the team’s “Franchise Quarterback” is playing like crap. There is viable concern right now that the Giants made a huge mistake in trading for Eli Manning. He’s regressing and hurting his team badly. Making matters worse, in terms of comparisons, former no-names such Tony Romo, David Garrard, Seneca Wallace, and Damon Huard are playing better. And of course, Eli will always be compared to Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

The national and local media is tearing Eli apart, as are many fans. But I’m sticking with Eli. He’s got my support. He’s the starting quarterback of the New York Giants and I am a diehard Giants’ fan. Sink or swim, we’re in this together. And if he develops into what he should become – either this year or sometime in the next couple of years – I want to be known as one of those guys who stood by him during the darkest period.

Coaching: Everyone has an ill-informed opinion on whether the problems with Eli are due mainly to the quarterback or the coaching staff. I have no idea. Part of me wonders if the coaching staff is putting Eli in the best possible situation to succeed. Shouldn’t there be more of a focus on the short-passing game and the run early in the contest in order to get Eli and the offense into a rhythm and build confidence? But how do we know that the offense doesn’t have these options and Eli is simply looking farther down the field on passing plays? Shockey is being sent out on patterns. The tape doesn’t lie. Why isn’t the ball going in that direction? Is Shockey covered? Are the coaches properly designing plays that will help him avoid double coverage? Or is the problem that Eli is too fixated on Burress? The Giants did get the ball more to Shockey this week and they did finally try to get the ball more to Barber. The problem, in many instances, was poor execution. Inaccurate passes, dropped balls, etc. In watching this game, it seemed as there was some breakdown in execution on many of the key plays. If the receiver was open, the pass was thrown behind the receiver or dropped. Or there was a breakdown in pass protection. It was frustrating as hell to watch because the Giants came damn close to putting up another 20-28 points. For example:

  1. On Eli’s first interception, Eli was under immediate pressure as LT Bob Whitfield was beaten. Eli had to scramble to his right and tossed a deep pass to a wide-open Burress. Had Manning set his feet and fired an accurate pass, a 75-yard touchdown catch would have been the result.
  2. Near the end of the first half, the Giants went to their no-huddle offense, picked up a first down, and were the beneficiary of a personal foul penalty that gave them the ball at the Jacksonville 49-yard line. After a false start by Whitfield, Barber dropped what looked to be a well setup screen pass. Two plays later, Burress dropped what would have been a first down on 3rd-and-5. Had those two drops not occurred, the Giants likely would have gotten at least a field goal out of this possession.
  3. Near the end of the third quarter, Eli threw a perfect deep pass to Burress that Burress should have caught in stride for an 80-yard touchdown. But he dropped the ball.
  4. In the 4th quarter, the Giants moved the ball from their own 40-yard line to the Jaguars’ 8-yard line, but Tim Carter carelessly fumbled away the ball and Jacksonville recovered.

If the Giants execute in these situations, the team scores a lot more points and no one is questioning the play-calling. See the dilemma?

Why not run the ball more? A strong case can be made that suggests this is New York’s biggest problem on offense. However, to be fair, the last two opponents are very good run defenses who have stacked the line of scrimmage against Tiki Barber. And Barber and Jacobs were stuffed repeatedly against the Jaguars. Conventional wisdom says that if the other team is stacking the line, you make them back off by beating them with big plays in the passing game.

Now that all said, my layman’s (and probably naïve) strategy for addressing the offensive problems is this:

  1. Stop force-feeding Eli. I think his system is overloaded with too much responsibility and information. Make the game easier for him. He’s thinking too much. I’d actually tell him to stop watching so much film and take some time off. He needs to relax.
  2. Use the 2-TE power running game early with Brandon Jacobs. Even if the opponent stacks the line, the Giants’ power formation with Brandon Jacobs is tough to stop.
  3. Use the short passing game early and often in order to develop a rhythm. Shockey and Barber should be a very tough combo for the opponent’s undercoverage to deal with. If you use the 2-TE formation, you can throw Visanthe Shiancoe into the mix.
  4. Use the no-huddle early in the game. Eli likes it. Make him comfortable. I think if you alternate between the no-huddle and the power-run formation on different series, you really will get the defense back on its heels.

Offensive Overview: The Giants were dreadful in the first half with only two first downs (they got a third first down off a penalty) and 73 total net yards (59 yards passing, 14 yards rushing). The Giants had six possessions in the first half and the first four were three-and-out. The fifth resulted in an interception. Here is the penalty/run/pass/turnover ratio on those six drives:

  1. One run, two passes.
  2. One holding penalty, two runs, one pass.
  3. One run, two passes.
  4. One run, two passes.
  5. One false start penalty (McKenzie), one run, three passes, one interception.
  6. One false start penalty, one run, four passes.

The Giants probably should have run the ball more. That said, when they did run, the results were dreadful. Particularly costly, for example, was the 3rd-and-1 play where Brandon Jacobs lost a yard. Jacobs lost a yard on another carry, putting the Giants in a bad 3rd-and-11 situation and Barber lost three yards on one run that put the Giants in a 2nd-and-18 situation. Three penalties in six possessions are not good either and helped to stall drives before they even had a chance to start.

In the second half, the results were only marginally better. There were six more possessions. Two of the first three were three-and-outs (two runs, four passes). The second possession (three runs, 8 passes) was only kept alive as an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty nullified a defensive touchdown (the Giants later went onto score their sole touchdown of the night on this possession). By the time the Giants got the ball back for their fourth possession, they were trailing 23-10 in the fourth quarter. Another holding penalty and interception stopped that effort. Trailing 26-10, the Giants reached the Jaguars’ 8-yard line with less than five minutes to go on their fifth possession, but WR Tim Carter fumbled the ball away. The sixth possession stalled at the Jaguars’ 18-yard line with just under two minutes to go.

Rightly (because of the Jags defense) or wrongly (impatience), the Giants went with a pass-centric attack and put the game on shoulders of Eli, his receivers, and pass protectors. They failed miserably. In all, the Giants went three-and-out on HALF of their 12 possessions.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (19-of-41 for 230 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) was dreadful. Eight of his 19 completions came in garbage time when the Giants were trailing by 16 points. Both of his interceptions were on him – one a bad underthrow and the other right to a linebacker who was covering the receiver underneath. And Manning is lucky as hell that his sack and fumble that should have resulted in a defensive touchdown was nullified by a penalty. Manning was gun-shy and inaccurate, and he made poor decisions and lost his composure. When the Giants’ first possession started at the Jaguars’ 29-yard line, the drive went nowhere as Eli was inaccurate on both of his first two passes, including a swing pass to Barber that was thrown into the dirt. This set the tone. And Manning seemed to be completely fixated on Burress for much of the night. It looked to me that Tim Carter was wide open on at least a couple of plays but Manning never looked in that direction.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress’ nifty 25-yard catch and run for a touchdown does not erase his bad evening. He dropped a deep pass late in the third quarter that would have given the Giants a 1-point lead. Burress also dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass that should have picked up a first down and put the Giants in field goal range late in the first half. And he couldn’t maintain possession of the football on what should have been a 15-yard completion late in the first quarter. Burress gave up on the play on Eli’s first interception, allowing the defender to pick up an additional 24 yards. He finished the evening with five catches for 65 yards.

I’ve had it with Tim Carter. His late-game fumble at the Jaguars’ 8-yard line was inexcusable. Carter is a tease, a coach-killer. His “potential” and few positive plays will never outweigh the negative. Honestly, I’d cut him right now.

David Tyree caught two passes for 15 yards.

Running Backs: Atrocious non-productivity though obvious the blocking deserves the bulk of the blame. Still, Barber only managed 27 yards on 10 carries and Brandon Jacobs had no yards on three carries, including a very costly 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-1.

Jacobs’ biggest contribution was his 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-18 on a screen play. Barber dropped a screen pass late in the first half that may have put the Giants into scoring position.

I thought both Barber and Jacobs did a poor job of recognizing the blitz in this game. There were a few breakdowns where a blitzer charged at Manning untouched as Barber or Jacobs looked elsewhere. For example, on the play where the defensive touchdown was nullified, Jacobs missed spotting the free blitzer.

Tight Ends: One of the announcers made the point in the game that Jeremy Shockey has eight first half receptions in nine games this year. Why the f*ck!? The inability of the coaching staff and the quarterback to get Shockey the ball is the most damning indictment of both. Shockey did have two late first-half receptions and did finish the game with seven catches for 82 yards, but three of these came in garbage time. He did drop one pass. Shockey’s holding penalty on the second drive of the game put the Giants in a 1st-and-20 hole.

Offensive Line: The run-blocking was terrible. The pass blocking was mostly OK though there were a few costly breakdowns. The biggest one was probably the pressure given up by Whitfield on Eli’s first interception. Eli had to scramble away from the defender, and this contributed to the inaccurate pass in the direction of a wide-open Burress. The play should have resulted in a 75-yard touchdown. Earlier on this drive, Whitfield badly missed a run block that led to a 3-yard loss on a running play. Whitfield was also flagged with a false start and a holding penalty on a screen pass that erased a 13-yard gain. RT Kareem McKenzie gave up a sack as he was cleanly beaten by the defensive end on an outside speed rush.

Defensive Overview: When you give up over 400 yards of offense and 165 yards rushing, it is not a good day for your defense. The Giants did not sack back-up David Garrard and allowed him to complete 19-of-32 passes for 249 yards. The run defense was obviously soft, though Jacksonville didn’t quite average four yards per carry. To be fair to the defense, the Giants’ offense put a terrible strain on them with all of the three-and-outs. The Giants’ offense maintained possession for less than 20 minutes of the game.

While the Giants were going three-and-out on half of their possessions, the Jaguars went:

  1. Three plays.
  2. Eight plays (52 yards and a field goal).
  3. Nine plays.
  4. Eight plays (57 yards and a touchdown).
  5. Six plays.
  6. Three plays.
  7. Four plays.
  8. Eight plays (41 yards and a field goal).
  9. Twelve plays (59 yards and a field goal).
  10. Four plays (55 yards and a touchdown).
  11. Seven plays (34 yards and a field goal).
  12. Three plays.
  13. Three plays.

As you can see, in terms of yardage covered, none of the scoring drives were over 60 yards. This indicates that the Giants’ offense also put the Giants’ defense in bad position in terms of field position. The costliest defensive lapse of the night was the 49-yard completion on 3rd-and-7 early in the fourth quarter. This turned a 16-10 game into a 23-10 game. Another bad defensive series was allowing the Jaguars to drive 59 yards in 12 plays right after the offense had cut the lead to 13-10.

Defensive Line: Not good. The run defense was soft. While the longest run by a Jaguars’ halfback was 12 yards, Jacksonville was able to consistently generate positive yardage that kept the team in manageable down-and-distance situations. No one up front stood out in run defense as the Giants started the game with William Joseph, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, and Mathias Kiwanuka. Cofield injured his groin and that limited him. Jonas Seawright saw some playing time and was terrible (he looked like a blocking sled on Jacksonville’s second touchdown run of the game).

Aside from a few early pass rush efforts by Kiwanuka and one by Robbins, the pass rush by the down four was non-existent. David Garrard had way too much time in the pocket.

Linebackers: Interestingly, Carlos Emmons started at weakside linebacker in favor of Gerris Wilkinson as Reggie Torbor stayed on as the strongside linebacker. This was most likely in anticipation of the Jaguars’ power running game, as well as Wilkinson’s inexperience.

Like the defensive line, the linebackers were unimpressive. I thought Antonio Pierce played one of his worst games as a Giant. He did not stand out against the run and was abused in coverage by H-Back George Wrighster. Pierce also didn’t appear to play with much emotion. After the game, he seemed to lay blame on the defensive’s shortcomings on the injuries. He ought to look at himself first.

One of the biggest miscues of the night was Torbor not being able to bring down Garrard on what should have been a drive-ending sack on 3rd-and-5. Instead, Garrard scramble for a 17-yard gain and a first down. This drive eventually ended with a field goal and helped the Jags regain momentum after the Giants had cut the score to 13-10.

Defensive Backs: The big problem seemed to be the Giants’ zone coverage. Time and time again, the Jaguars would settle into soft spots in the Giants’ zone between the linebackers and defensive backs. The Giants were also hurt by play-action rollout passes – a product of the successful running game.

Gibril Wilson and Will Demps flashed in run support, but they did not stand out in coverage and missed some tackles. Wilson’s missed tackle on WR Ernest Wilford on a 3rd-and-3 pass led to a first down and eventual touchdown. This was a big play in the game. Demps later missed a tackle on this drive’s 10-yard touchdown run. Later in the game, Wilson was playing way too off on an easy 11-yard completion to Wrighster on 3rd-and-5. On the very next play however, Wilson did force a fumble that saved a touchdown. Demps knocked away one pass intended for Wrighster.

James Butler knocked away one 3rd-and-5 pass and forced a field goal, but he also badly misplayed his attempt to tackle WR Matt Jones on the latter’s big run after the catch on the Jaguars’ final touchdown drive of the night.

Corey Webster gave up a couple of 17-yard sideline receptions to Wilford and then slipped on the grass on Jones’ killer 49-yard catch-and-run. Still, it was a much better effort by Webster this week as he had good position on many passes thrown in his direction and knocked two away.

R.W. McQuarters and Kevin Dockery did alright, but again there were breakdowns in the zone and you have to wonder who was responsible.

Special Teams: PK Jay feely hit his only field goal try – from 40 yards out. His kickoffs were fielded at the 4, 5, and 9. Jacksonville kickoff returns picked up 6 yards (Brandon Jacobs), 22 yards (Chase Blackburn), and 27 yards (Blackburn). The last kickoff return came at a bad time as it gave the Jaguars the ball at the 36-yard line right after New York had cut the lead to 13-10.

P Jeff Feagles averaged 40.2 yards per punt on six punts. Four of those six punts were returned (the two others were fair caught). Punt returns picked up 1 (Reggie Torbor), 6 (Jason Bell), 8 (Torbor), and 2 yards (James Butler).

Derrick Ward returned three kickoffs for 19, 24, and 36 yards. He also made a terrible play when he muffed the ball out of bounds at the 10-yard line to start the second half. This came at a bad time as the Giants were looking for a fresh beginning at the start of the second half. Brandon Jacobs returned one kickoff 28 yards.

Chad Morton returned two punts for a total of 16 yards. He also fair caught two others.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars, November 20, 2006)